Are We Living in a Simulation?

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Area: History and Social Studies, Language Arts and Literature, Math and Logic, Science
Grade Level: High School & Beyond, Middle School
Topics: Epistemology, ethics, reality, simulations, video games
Estimated Time Necessary: 45 minutes or one class period

Lesson Plan

Objectives:
Epistemological Reflection
Students should deeply reflect about the nature of reality and how we know what we know

Are We Living in a Simulation, and What Would it Mean if the Answer is Yes?

The purpose of this lesson is to explore the nature of reality and how we know whether or not anything is real

Begin the lesson with the two short embedded videos to get the students thinking and engaged in the lesson

Ask them to briefly reflect on the following questions (individual reflection):

Do you agree or disagree with Elon Musk: Do you think we are living in a simulation?

If yes, why?

If no, what evidence do you have to prove that this is “face reality”?

Activity 1

Ask students to jot down a list of reasons why we could be living in a simulation and a list of reasons why we can’t be.

Which list is more compelling? Why?

Activity 2: Journaling

Independent writing activity: have students write for 10 – 15 minutes on one of the following prompts:

Assume that we are, in fact, living in a computer simulation. Do our actions have consequences? Why or why not? How would you change the way you live your life given this knowledge?

You have just built the world’s best running supercomputer/virtual reality system, and all of the gaming companies are looking to you to make the next big game. What would you design? Would you ever want to make a simulation of reality so complete it was indistinguishable from the real thing? Why or why not?

There’s a new virtual reality game so detailed and complete, it is rumored to feel just like real life. You get this system as a birthday present and discover the rumors are true! You can even eat food in this game and taste the flavors. The virtual world is much more peaceful and enjoyable than the real world is. Would you ever leave the game? Why or why not?

Would knowing that you live in a simulation change your experience of playing video games?  Do you think it’s possible that the characters in them are real?

Activity 3: Discussion

Break students into small groups and have them talk about their opinions on life being a simulation. Do they differ from yours? What types of evidence do you both have to support your points?

Try pushing the discussion further. For example, if someone says they know life is real because they have free will, ask them if they know that, or if it’s just a belief they hold.

Closing Questions:

What do you think: Is this all real, or is life as we know it just a simulation? And does that really matter? 

Would knowing the absolute answer change the way you live your life?

Extra Resources:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/

Epistemology

https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/are-we-living-simulated-universe-here-s-what-scientists-say-ncna1026916

https://builtin.com/hardware/simulation-theory

Chapter 18 “The Seventh Sally or How Trurl’s Own Perfection Led to No Good” – https://www.amazon.com/Minds-Fantasies-Reflections-Self-Soul/dp/0465030912

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Video

This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Casey Brown, Hamilton College.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

If you would like to change or adapt any of PLATO's work for public use, please feel free to contact us for permission at info@plato-philosophy.org.